Category Archives: Restaurants

Appreciating Argentinian Cuisine in Rockville

We’ve got a lot of great Mexican and Salvadoran restaurants in DC, but not nearly as many South American hotspots.  Before you go pointing me to Fogo de Chao, let me specify—I mean non-chain, family-owned, feel-like-you’re-actually-in-Buenos-Aires type places.  (And I will say we are home to some great Peruvian restaurants).

El Patio

Nevertheless, I was excited to discover El Patio, a great Argentinian restaurant, café, and small market in Rockville.  Unassumingly located in a strip mall, El Patio serves up a wide variety of the country’s finest foods, like traditional barbeque (parrillada), carne salteada, and milanesas (friend or breaded meats).  The café in the back is the perfect place to snack on empandas, Spanish tortillas, and other baked goods.  And don’t forget a glass of malbec!

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El Patio also hosts a small market featuring foods and wines from Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, and Uruguay. Looking for yerba mate, alfajores, or chimcurri sauce?  This is your spot.  You can even buy a guampa and bombilla for drinking the mate (the gourd and straw, for those not in the know).

mate

One of the best things about visiting El Patio is observing and interacting with its local South American crowd.  On the Sunday afternoon when I visited, my group was one of the very few speaking English rather than Spanish.  This is what I like so much about Rockville, Centreville, Annandale, and other suburbs teeming with ethnic restaurants:  not only is the food great, but because they are located in cultural neighborhood centers, you really do feel like you’ve taken a step into a different city, even if just for a short time.

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To visit:  5240 Randolph Rd Rockville Maryland, Loehmanns Plaza Shopping Center‎, (301) 231-9225.  M-Th 9am-9pm, F-Sat 9am-10pm, Sun 9am-8pm.  About a mile walk from the White Flint metro stop on the red line.

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Savoring Senegal and the Flavors of West Africa

Our town is a veritable mecca for Ethiopian food, and I suspect many a resident has introduced family and friends to the delights of injeera and wat.  But D.C. is also home to a number of other exceptional African restaurants, including one of the few West African joints in the area, Chez Aunty Libe.

Located north of the Petworth neighborhood, Chez Aunty Libe offers “Senegambian” food, which includes influences from many West African countries like Senegal, The Gambia and Cote D’Ivoire.  Both the ambience and food are, as one reviewer put it, “straight out of Dakar.”

Dishes you may sample generally consist of stews of meat and vegetables like cassava, carrots, and cabbage.  Examples include thieboudienne (fish in a tomato-based stew), maffe (peanut or groundnut sauce), and yassa (marinated fish or meat).

Another items worth trying is the bissap, a juice made from hibiscus flowers that reminded me very much of Mexico’s “jugo de jamaica.”  And although I didn’t sample it myself, many reviews recommend the thiakry, a couscous pudding for dessert.

One of the best parts of a visit to Chez Aunty Libe is the opportunity to chat with Aunty Libe herself, also known as Liberte Ehemba.  Originally from Senegal, she arrived in the U.S. more than 20 years ago and has made her business a hub for members of the West African community in D.C.  This fact was clear early on—Libe is extraordinarily friendly, knew nearly every person who walked in the door, and had long conversations in French (and perhaps other languages) with each restaurant goers.

It isn’t often that we get the opportunity to feel like we’re on the other side of the world while still in our city, so savor it when it happens!

To visit:  6115 Georgia Ave. NW, 202-531-2561, Sunday–Thursday 11:30 a.m.–11:30 p.m. and Friday- Saturday 24 hours.  One mile from the Takoma Park metro stop, or 2 miles from Georgia Ave.-Petworth.  The 70 and 71 bus stop very close by.

 

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Bahn Mi Bliss at the Eden Center

Every city has its neighborhood cultural hubs, from Little Italy in Boston to Koreatown in New York.  One of D.C.’s best ethnic hotspots is Eden Center, located in Falls Church, Virginia.  This large indoor and outdoor mall complex is home to approximately 120 Vietnamese stores, ranging from restaurants to groceries to souvenirs to salons.  As its website says, it is “the heart and soul of the Vietnamese-American Community for the entire East Coast.”

Because there’s so much going on at Eden Center, especially on weekends, it’s a bit overwhelming to visit and pick a restaurant.  Let me suggest Song Que (“song whey”), a delightful bahn mi shop that also features various grocery/deli items like finger foods to go, hard-to-find fruits, and snacks.

Bahn mi is best described as a French-influenced Vietnamese sandwich, featuring meats, tofu, and pickled vegetables on a baguette.  Options include ground pork, lemongrass beef, and Vietnamese meatballs.  Song Que is somewhat unique in terms of bahn mi at Eden Center and elsewhere in that it has a great vegetarian option—the caramelized tofu skin sandwich.

Also worth tasting are the bubble teas that come in all sorts of flavors, like mango, yellow bean, and jackfruit.  Song Que is nice in that it has table and seats in the back, which many of the other takeout food options at Eden Center do not.

After your sandwich, stroll around the mall, and especially go to the grocery store, called the Eden Supermarket.  It’s a treasure trove of many different ingredients for Asian cooking at amazing prices.  Other great restaurant choices at Eden Center included pho, seafood dishes, and soups.  Here’s a listing of all of the options.

Eden Center, formally the Plaza Seven Shopping Center, started reaching its height when thousands of immigrants settled in the area in the 1970s after the Vietnam War.  Indeed, the clock tower at the Eden Center is an exact replica of that in Saigon.  It’s a great place to step out of America for a couple of hours, and experience the delights and flavors of a different culture.

To visit:  6751 Wilson Blvd, Falls Church, VA (Song Que is located at 6769 Wilson Boulevard), hours vary by store—call for details.  About a one mile walk from the East Falls Church metro, or 1A/1B/1E/1F bus west from the Ballston metro).

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Santa Fe Cafe: Savoring the Flavors of the Land of Enchantment

Your faithful blogger just returned from a delightful holiday vacation in Taos, New Mexico.  Feeling a desperate need for green chile after having consumed it three times a day for a week, she scoured the DC food blogs for a reminder of the 47th state.

 

And that’s how she found the Santa Fe Cafe in Arlington, Virginia, one of the only New Mexican restaurants in the DC metro area (the Anita’s chain is another option for the Virginians out there).  The place was founded in 1988 by Kip Laramie, who was quick to plead modesty by stating that he was “cautious about saying it’s authentic” due to the distinct differences in food and flavors within the state itself.

New Mexican food is best known by the importance placed on both red and green chile sauces.  While other ingredients like posole, blue corn, and sopapillas also make New Mexican cuisine unique, the chile is the star ingredient.  (The fact that a Chile Pepper Institute exists at New Mexico State University should give you a clue as to how devoted New Mexicans are to their prima donna).

Santa Fe Cafe obliges spicy die-hards with entrees featuring either Hatch green chiles or Chimayo red chile sauce, like rellenos, enchiladas, and burritos.  Or, if something else on the menus entices you, a bowl of the soupy mixture comes on the side for just $1 extra.  Vegetarians will be relieved to know that both the green and red chile are meat-free, unlike many establishments that include beef or pork.  Unfortunately, no New Mexican beers are offered at Santa Fe Cafe, but a number of good microbrews and Mexican beers make up the drink list.

It’s good to know that many a native New Mexican has found the place legit—a wall in the entryway features signed headshots of famous New Mexican leaders like Governor Bill Richardson, Senators Tom Udall and Pete Domenici, and Congressman Ben Ray Lujan.  Lujan’s authograph states that the café’s food is “just like mom’s cooking.”

Another great aspect of the restaurant is its emphasis on décor.  Traditional New Mexican ornaments like pottery, ristas (strings of chiles hung to dry), images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and gorgeous rugs line the walls.  San Pasquale, the patron saint of cooking, is also featured prominently.  In particular I appreciated the stuffed armadillo that hangs perilously from an old speaker high above an unsuspecting booth.

DC is a haven for out-of-towners, but sometimes you just need a taste of your home state.  Luckily, Santa Fe Café is here to satisfy the needs of our very own New Mexican diaspora—or at least those of us who hope to return soon.

To visit:  1500 Wilson Ave., Arlington, VA.  703-276-0361. A few blocks from the Rosslyn Metro, Dupont/Georgetown circulator, and 38B bus.  Closed Sundays, and no breakfast/lunch on Saturdays.

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Across the River at Uniontown Bar and Grill

There’s no doubt that Anacostia is slowly changing.  Currently an almost entirely residential neighborhood, it has recently begun to at least show signs of success in drawing businesses and economic development to Ward 8, which the Washington Post called a “a long-neglected area of the city” in February.  Perhaps the most important bellwether of this change is the opening of one of Anacostia’s first (if not the only, depending on what your consider “Anacostia”) sit-down restaurants and bars, Uniontown Bar and Grill.

Uniontown takes its name from Anacostia’s original name.  The Uniontown neighborhood was incorporated in 1854 and was one of DC’s first suburbs.  The history of the area is very interesting, and full of demographic changes, including covenants against selling to members of certain races and ethnicities—see this National Park Service primer for more details.  Uniontown the bar homage to its past, with framed black and white photos on the wall from Anacostia’s olden days.

The restaurant captures the perfect combination of both trendy and neighborhood-y feelings.  It is filled with young professionals who seek happy hours after work, and almost all of the patrons when I visited were local.  This is a far different experience than that of most watering holes in DC, particularly in places like Adams Morgan and Farragut, whose bars beckon those from miles around to drive in and spend money.  Uniontown is better for it.

The food is southern inspired—the crab dip and sweet potato fries are certainly worth sampling.  The bar options lean heavily towards cocktails (a.k.a. “hip sips”), with just a few beer options.  Also impressive is a “create your own salad” option—bar food taken up a notch!

The owner of the restaurant, Natasha Dasher, is often on hand to chat with patrons, make personal inquiries, and welcome anyone and everyone to her establishment.  I was lucky enough to visit Uniontown with an Anacostia resident, and Natasha seemed to know him and everyone else in the bar, preserving the feeling that this place is “a hub in the community,” as she was quoted in an interview describing her hopes for the place.

As the Washington Post stated in its review of Uniontown, the spot is a symbol of Anacostia’s “potential to have the same services and amenities found in more affluent areas of the city.”  Head to Uniontown soon not only for its good vibes, but for a glimpse at history being made in a neighborhood that is right in the middle of some very important changes.

To visit:  2200 Martin Luther King Ave. SE, 202-678-8824, Monday-Thursday 11am-9pm and Friday/Saturday 11am-2am.  It is a 10-minute walk from the Anacostia metro stop, or the 90 bus from NW/Capitol Hill.

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So’s Your Mom: The Place for Bagels, Sandwiches, and Deli Philosophizing

What makes a deli a deli and not just a run of the mill sandwich shop?  Is it cold cuts, sandwiches in paper, sides/add-ons/condiments, a distinct ethic leaning?   Yelpers have been asking that question for years with regard to So’s Your Mom, a delightfully cramped little sandwich place located in Adams Morgan.  Some have lauded it as “the closest thing I’ve found to a NY deli,” while others have lambasted it as “nothing original or exciting.”

Part of what makes the philosophy of delis so interesting in DC is that our city doesn’t seem to have many of them.  Sure, there are myriad sandwich shops clustered near office buildings, but they have lost much of their original charm and distinctiveness.  Many of the best delis are found on the outskirts of the city, like Wagshal’s on Mass Ave. and Parkway Deli in Silver Spring.  (And, yes, A. Literri’s, which I’ve covered before and would consider in a category of its own!)

That’s why So’s Your Mom is a delightful find.  Whether or not it fits your definition of “deli,” the place has killer sandwiches.  The options make up two whole chalkboards, ranging from corned beef to liverwurst to some flavorful vegetarian options like my own emmenthaler and avocado combo.  Additionally, it features interesting additions like knishes and stuffed grape leaves.   It also has (arguably) some of the best bagels in DC that you can adorn with interesting flavors of cream cheese.  And, of course, sides by the pound—what would a “deli” be without mayo-slathered macaroni and potato salad?

So’s Your Mom also stocks provisions that are at home in any deli—fancy dried pasta, many different kinds of capers and other pickled veggies, and Ferrero Rocher candies.  The decorations are marvelously tacky and out of date—a photograph of the 1988 Northwest Softball League Champions hangs triumphantly by the doorway.  The place has changed hands many times over the last twenty years, and try as I might, it was very heard to dig up information on the origination of the joint and its name.  The current family who owns it has had it for about five years.

In the end, it’s up to you to decide whether So’s Your Mom qualifies as a deli in your book.  It certainly has many of the trappings, like Boar’s Head meats and cheeses, pastries from Philly, etc.   But there’s no way to determine without visiting!

To visit:  1831 Columbia Rd NW, (202) 462-3666.  M-F 7 am – 8 pm, Sat and Sun 8 am – 7 pm.  Short walk from the Woodley Park-Adams Morgan Metro, or on the 90s, 42, and L2 lines.

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Catch of the Day at the Maine Avenue Fish Market

The Maine Avenue Fish Market, a collection of seafood joints located on barges in the Potomac River, is a grimy, fun, hidden gem that features some of the most authentic food and people-watching in the District.  Open continuously since the early 1800s, the market is located under I-395 on approximately 12th and G SW.

A half-dozen vendors make up the market, such as Captain White’s, Jessie Taylor Seafood, and Evans Brothers for dessert.  The main attraction is the wholesale seafood, displayed on ice in copious quantities.  Chesapeake Bay blue crabs (of all sizes and genders) are ubiquitous, and it’s not hard to spot faves like rainbow trout, swordfish, and octopus.  More exotic catches, like gigantic freshwater shrimp and shark, can also be seen.  Be aware that only some of the seafood is local, the remainer being shipped from various other locations across the country and the world—just ask the employees, who are friendly and willing to talk your ear off about fish.

Also entertaining about the market is the fact that you can order up anything to eat right there on the harbor.  Oysters and clams on the half shell are only $1 each, or you can select crabs to be freshly steamed.  A healthy selection of sides are available to suit the non-pescetarian vegetarians amongst us, such as French fries and hush puppies.  And as would fit a true Maryland attraction, there is a comprehensive set of condiments for the seafood that includes large jars of Old Bay.  The price is right, making the market the source of some of the cheapest seafood in the area.

The Maine Avenue Fish Market, which was razed in the 1960s and nearly discontinued, is crowded and smelly, but it’s downright local.  As a friend of mine said, “it’s like Seattle’s Pike Place Market  before it was gentrified.”All different sorts of folks end up at Maine Avenue, with large families in tow on the weekends, and that diversity is the best thing about the place.

To get there:  Smithsonian or L’Enfant Plaza metros, or SW Waterfront Circulator.  Hours unclear, but generally dawn ‘til dusk.

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